BLUE SPRINGS, Mo. – Adults often complain about the stresses of daily life in our fast-paced society, but children are not immune to the effects of an overscheduled lifestyle, said a University of Missouri Extension human development specialist.

Scheduling time at home for the family to relax and play together when there are no plans, no pushing and no hurrying is essential, said Lisa Wallace.

“Sports teams, art classes, computer classes and similar opportunities can enrich children’s lives, but they also can be stressors if they deprive kids of developmentally appropriate activities and play,” Wallace said. “What children learn through their play experiences builds the foundation for academic learning during the school year.”

Wallace offered a few tips to counteract overscheduling:

- Protect family time. Set aside dinner as non-negotiable family time. Plan a weekly game night or spend a weekend afternoon together. Family activities provide bonding, stability and security for your children.

- Talk with your child. Before enrolling your child in a new sport, class or event, ask a few questions: What is your favorite thing about this activity? Why do you want to be involved? What are you willing to give up in order to have time to participate? What do you wish you had more time to do? After the discussion, review the child’s answers to assess whether there is a true desire to participate.

- Carefully consider the value of sports. Like adults, many American children don’t get enough exercise. Participation in sports can provide important and positive experiences, but overinvolvement and intense competition can be unnecessary stressors for children. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children should not focus on a single sport until they reach adolescence. Parents should make sure the child does not become overly obsessed with the sport.

- Encourage some do-nothing time. Children and parents need time that is unplanned and open for relaxation, thinking and talking. This time works best when there is no distraction from the television, computer or telephone.

“Many of us see early involvement as the way to give our kids a head start in a competitive world,” Wallace said. “When you find yourself drowning in carpools and a crowded calendar, you’re not alone. But be realistic about what is important. Really look at your family’s schedule, then ease up and scale back so your child isn’t overscheduled.”

Media contact: Lisa Wallace, former Extension Professional in Human Development and Family Science; Writer: Rebecca Gants, former Marketing Specialist